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The Colorado board of education is urging schools to use proven management techniques to correct student behavior instead of relying too readily on psychiatric prescription drugs.

A nonbinding resolution the board passed last month encourages school personnel "to use proven academic and/or classroom-management solutions to resolve behavior, attention, and learning difficulties."

It also encourages "greater communication amongst parents, educators, and medical professionals about the effects of psychotropic drugs on student achievement and our ability to provide a safe and civil learning environment."

But the resolution has generated concern because of some claims by supporters. They asserted that such drugs had led to suicides and prompted parents to removal their children from school rather than succumb to pressure to medicate them.

Patti Johnson, the measure's sponsor, said she's received complaints from parents about the misuse of drugs such as Ritalin and Prozac during her five years as a board member. In some instances, she said, parents who simply wanted extra reading help for their child were told they had to put the youngster on Ritalin, which is widely prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Ms. Johnson said she fears that too many students have been improperly diagnosed with ADHD and other behavioral or psychiatric maladies.

Among the witnesses Ms. Johnson brought in to corroborate her claims was Bruce Wiseman, the president of the U.S. Commission on Human Rights, a private organization founded by the Church of Scientology. He warned that the "fraudulent labeling and drugging of our nation's youth with psychiatry's mind-altering drugs" was leading to violence such as the shootings at Colorado's Columbine High School.

Language in the resolution stating that "there are documented incidents of highly negative consequences" in which psychiatric drugs were used for discipline also spurred debate over whether the board had the medical knowledge to adopt it.

But Ms. Johnson said she worries that schools will be held legally responsible for such acts as student violence or suicides if it turns out that drugs played a part and the school was found to have encouraged parents to put their children on the drugs.

--Joetta L. Sack

Vol. 19, Issue 15, Page 15

Published in Print: December 8, 1999, as State Journal

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